I was happy to see 2020 go. 2021 wasn’t as exhausting as last year but we still had an attempted insurrection, tornadoes to deal with and we lost 4 cast members from the Mary Tyler Show. On a personal note, I’m on a staggered schedule where I work 5 days in the office and 5 days home. I wound up watching old movies I’ve always wanted to see like Lilly of the Fields, Cool Hand Luke, and Topkapi, one of the best jewel heist films I’ve ever seen. More importantly, I got the chance to go out to dinner with friends, something I missed doing in 2020.
I read 17 books this year, which is about average for me. I concentrated on reading books by current authors, although some oldies like Tom Jones and Jude the Obscure popped in. I read 7 female authors, 4 authors of color, and even read my first Asian author (Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. ). I wound up reading 4 classics. All in all, a diverse reading year.
I was happy that I finished all the books I read this year. There were only 2 books I disliked this year: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I was looking forward to reading Gilead. I loved Robinson’s first book, Housekeeping and I heard great things about it. I found the narrative meandering and there was more theology than I wanted. As for Where the Crawdads Sing, I should know better than to read an overhyped novel. I didn’t think it was well written and I didn’t like how all members of Kya’s family left her behind to stay with her alcoholic father. If I pick up another overhyped book, I hope someone slaps it out of my hand.
Without further ado, here is my list of favorite books I read this year:
Passing by Nella Larson
I first heard about this book when I read David Bowie’s list of his 100 favorite books of all time. This is the story of 2 African American women: Irene, a middle-class woman who lives in Harlem with her doctor husband and 2 boys, and Claire, a light-skinned African American woman who can ” pass ” for being white and is married to a well off white man who is a bigot. The book has a surprise ending that you don’t see coming. The movie is excellent too and I’m glad that more people will be reading the book because Larson is worth reading.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
I was never a big Hemingway fan. I was always turned off by his macho persona but it’s not on display in this book. This novel was inspired from the his real life romance with an older British nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky when he was stationed during WW1 in Italy when he was only 17 years old. This is a touching story of love and war with a devastating ending. Now I want to read more Hemingway. It was a buddy read with my Bookstagram friends @rolly.looks.at.books and @nikeclassic2
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
This is a short book that packs a punch. When the eldest daughter of a Chinese-American family is found dead in a lake, the family winds up imploding on itself. It’s about the secrets we keep from our loved ones as well as the lies we tell ourselves. I thought about this book long after I read it.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead is now on of the best American authors around, having won the Pulitizer Prize twice in such a short time. This novel follows 2 escaped slaves, Cora and Caesar as they traveled North to find freedom. The get help from the Railroad, which in Whitehead’s vision is an actual working underground network of trains and stations. Hot on their trail is successful slave hunter Ridgeway. You get caught up in Cora’s harrowing journey to find peace and freedom.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Ex-police turned private eye Jackson Brodie is hired to to investigate 2 cold cases: a missing child from the 70’s and a murder of a young woman working in her father’s law firm in the 90’s. He is also hired to find the daughter of a woman who killed her husband in the 70’s. Atkinson keeps you invested in all 3 cases and you can’t help loving Brodie.
Elanor Olyphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This book is very popular and it took me by surprise. Reading the back cover, it made me think this was going be a forgettable romantic comedy. It has some of tropes but the book cuts deeper. Elanor tries to convince people and herself that she’s “completely fine”, where in reality she’s haunted by her childhood. It’s funny at times but also sad as Elanor confronts her past.
Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank Bunker Gailbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gailbreth Carey
This is the charming and sometimes hilarious story of the large Gailbreth family lead by efficiency expert Frank Gailbreth Sr. Gailbreth believed that you could apply the principles of running a business efficiently to helping raise a family of 12 kids. I love the film with Clifton Webb and I imagined Webb’s voice as I read the book. A quick and enjoyable read.
Americanha by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
This was the first book I read this year and I enjoyed it. It’s the story about how young lovers from Nigeria Ifemelu and Obinze planned to immigrate to the US. Ifemelu goes to the US on a student visa and after awhile winds up writing a popular blog about race. Obizne winds up illegally living in England, barred from going to America after tighter restrictions after 9/11. It’s a story about immigration, racism, natural hair and the power of first love.
Quicksand by Nella Larson
I read the only 2 novels Larson wrote and they both are powerful stories about race and identity. Helga’s mother was a an immigrant from Denmark and her father was a gambler from the West Indies who leaves after Helga is born. Helga doesn’t feel like she fits in with her life in Harlem but when her aunt in Copenhagen invites her to live in Copenhagen, she feels out of place. It’s a shame that Larson only wrote 2 novels and a handful of stories until she was caught plagiarizing someone else’s work.
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
I blogged about this book before but despite Fielding’s countless digressions, this book was a lot of fun to read. You need a lot of patience but I think this book is worth reading.
I have 2 honorable meantions: Jude the Obscure, one of Thomas Hardy’s most tragic books and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, which is look at modern India. I hope everyone had a great reading year and I’m looking forward to more great books in 2022.